Lacrosse in Brampton has had a rich and enduring history. Building on Canada’s aboriginal roots, lacrosse emerged in Brampton in the 1870s and has become an important ingredient of Brampton’s distinctive character. In 1974, the Excelsior Lacrosse Club Executive recognized 1883 as the official date for the establishment of the Excelsior Lacrosse Club. This year was selected given its solidification as a community organization and its entry into the newly established provincial lacrosse champions’ schedule.
The Early Years
Brampton is viewed as both a “cradle and nursery” for the development of lacrosse in Ontario and indeed, Canada. The Excelsior Lacrosse Club holds the enviable legacy of being the longest-running amateur community-owned sports franchise in Canada, perhaps in North America.
Perkins Bull, author of From Rattlesnake Hunt To Hockey: The History of Sports in Canada and of the Sportsmen of Peel, 1798 to 1934, wrote that while it was Harry W. Dawson who brought “the first stick into Brampton,” the “first regular play began in1871” when George M. Lee, second Master in the Brampton High School, initiated the first organized game. At Lee’s suggestion it is reported that the “Excelsior” name from Longfellow’s poem was introduced and the legend was set in motion. The Excelsiors’ first win came in June 1871 against the Second Twelve of the Ontario Club at the Fair Grounds of the Peel Agricultural Society in Brampton (where the current Lorne Scots building stands on Chapel Street).
Lacrosse flourished in Brampton at the time and was a principal attraction, with many memorable contests taking place. During the early 1880s, the Excelsior Lacrosse Club continued to grow. A Senior league was organized across Ontario and a series of provincial district championship schedules were arranged. The Senior Excelsiors won the Ontario Western District Championship in 1881, 1882 and 1883, defeating such teams from Guelph, Elora, Mount Forest, Fergus, Orangeville, Milton, Stratford, St.Mary’s, Listowel and Harriston. The second generation of prominent Excelsiors emerged during this time including Samuel Charters, Richard Blain, T.W. Duggan, Leonard Suggitt, George Sinclair, George Beck and Albert Hill. A Junior team, known as the ‘Athletics’, was established during this period and played Georgetown, Milton, Orangeville and a number of teams from Toronto. In 1907, the team took on the official Excelsior name too.
For the next twenty years lacrosse grew rapidly across Ontario and other parts of Canada. In 1887, the Canadian Lacrosse Association (CLA) was formed and Ontario’s Senior league further solidified. Lacrosse honours returned to Brampton as the Intermediate Excelsiors captured the Ontario Intermediate Championship in 1893 and 1894. Many viewed this as being one of the strongest teams to come out of Brampton in its short lacrosse history and it included many future prominent Bramptonians, including Dr. J.G. Roberts (O.A.L.A. president), J.R. Fallis (M.P.P. for Peel), D.L. Heggie (Brampton surgeon), the Peaker brothers (dentists). In 1895 they were finalists in the Senior Series defeating St. Catharines in the semi-final but losing to Seaforth in the final.
Prominent Excelsior teams continued to emerge and develop at the turn of the century. In 1912 and 1913, both the Junior and Senior teams won the Ontario Amateur Lacrosse Association Championships. The Senior Excelsiors went on to capture Ontario’s Globe Shield again in 1914, but were unsuccessful in their bid for the Mann Cup. Some of the key players included H. Campbell, G. Williams, C. Mulliss, F. Beecham, P. Warr, Roswell I. Blain, W. Stevens, G. Sproule, W.K. Mara, H. Sproule, A.G. Davis, C.V. Charters, J. Roberts, M. Ashley, and N. Anderson. In 1922, the Brampton Junior team won their first Junior Ontario Amateur Lacrosse Association Championship and the Iroquois Cup, defeating Shelburne. In 1926, the Senior team captured the Dominion Championship, defeating Weston.
Excelsiors’ First Mann Cup, 1930
The Senior Excelsiors won the Senior O.A.L.A. Championship and the Globe Shield before going on to compete for, and win, the Mann Cup, the Canadian Amateur Lacrosse Association’s (CALA) top honour. Coached by Eddie Powers, Brampton defeated the Eastern Canadian Champions from Montreal in the sem-finals, before going on to defeat the New Westminster Salmonbellies in a three game series at Varsity Stadium. George Sproule, long time star of the Excelsiors, was selected winner of the Murphy Memorial trophy. This award was given to the team’s the most valuable and sportsmanlike contestant of the season in the Ontario Lacrosse Association. His Excelsior teammates included Ollie Burton, Stew Beatty, Harold ‘Mooney’ Gibson, Bert Large, Jerry Kendall, George Thompson, William O’Hearn, Albert Burry, De Forest Wilson, Ed Reeves, Cecil Stapleton, Norm Zimmer, Ernest Gowdy, Pete Ella, Elgin Core, Claude Jennings, and Lambert Powell.
The Mann Cup was not the only lacrosse honour that found its way to Brampton in 1930. It was a banner year for the Intermediate and Junior Excelsiors too. The Juniors’ won the provincial Iroquois Cup for the second time while the Excelsior Intermediates captured the La Fortuna Cup for the fifth time (also won in 1890, 1893, 1894 and 1924). In 1931, the Senior Excelsiors’ added another Mann Cup to the collection, defeating the New Westminster Salmonbellies for the second consecutive year.
Brampton’s lacrosse history took a big shift in the 1930s. Rosalea Park emerged as Brampton’s designated lacrosse grounds, the result of a generous donation by the Jennings family. Brampton also witnessed the emergence of box lacrosse with the building of Brampton’s first outdoor box lacrosse bowl, the Rose Bowl at Rosalea Park (where Brampton’s tennis courts are currently situated). It wasn’t uncommon to have 4,000 spectators at a Saturday afternoon game as the town virtually came to stand still.
Brampton’s third Mann Cup came in 1942 when the Mimico-Brampton Combines defeated the New Westminster Salmonbellies at Maple Leaf Gardens. This was Brampton’s first box lacrosse Mann Cup championship. Goalie Bert Large won the Mike Kelly Award as the outstanding player during the series. In 1943 the Combines won the provincial title but were unable to repeat their national championship honours, this time losing to the Salmonbellies.
Minor lacrosse had existed in Brampton from the turn of the century under the auspices of various local organizations. In 1943 the Brampton Minor Lacrosse Association (BMLA) was formed, under the leadership of Dr. Ken Hall with Walter Smart as the league manager. In 1946, the BMLA officially entered the Ontario Minor Lacrosse Association (OMLA). E.W. ‘Billy’ Evans, George ‘Mush’ Thompson, Stew Beatty, Jim Clevely, Walter Smart, Lloyd ‘Baldy’ Ewles, and many others guided this next stage of lacrosse development in Brampton.
Excelsiors’ First Minto Cup, 1952
Championship fever took over Brampton again in 1952 as the Junior Excelsiors won their first Minto Cup competition. The Junior Excelsiors, coached by Carl Madgett, defeated New Westminster in the championship.. Jack Bionda, a Huntsville native, played for Brampton that year and later emerged as one of the game’s all time greats. Players on Brampton’s first Minto Cup team also included B. McLaughlin, J. Sibbald, Jim Dodds, J. Caruso, K. Woods, L. Smith, G. Laidlaw, B. Watson, D. Kearney, J. Hillson, G. Savage, J. McCann, P. Bradkin, C. Armstrong, A. Archdekin, and B. Russell.
A second outdoor lacrosse box for Brampton’s youngest players was built in 1952 replacing the original one (on the current site of the YMCA in Rosalea Park). Little did lacrosse builders know that they were laying the foundation for future Brampton’s supremacy in Junior lacrosse and the emergence of Excelsior greats like the Thompson brothers (Jim, Gord, and Wayne), Bert Naylor, Bruce Wanless, Don Arthurs, John Ford, John McCauley, Dave and Bram Wilfong and many others who would contribute to Brampton’s many lacrosse successes during this period.
In the late 1950s, the Junior Excelsior teams, coached by George ‘Mush’ Thompson, dominated lacrosse in Canada, winning four Eastern Canadian Junior Championships from 1956 to 1959, and three consecutive Minto Cup Canadian Championships from 1957 to 1959. The 1958 Minto Cup team went unbeaten in the Ontario semi-finals, the Ontario finals and the Canadian Championship series. The1959 Excelsiors had eight rookies on the team including fourteen-year-old John McCauley, the youngest player to play on a Canadian Lacrosse Championship Team, a CLA record. Excelsior players who played for all three Minto Cup teams included Bob Savage, Bob McClure, Dave Beatty, Bert Naylor, Wayne Thompson and Bruce Wanless.
Many players and builders from these Championship teams received various honours for their achievements. Harry Benham, George “Mush” Thompson, Wayne Thompson and Bruce Wanless were later inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Association Hall of Fame (CLAHF), the